The neem tree (Azadirachta indica) has been valued since antiquity. According to the book Neem:
A Tree for Solving Global Problems, “the earliest Sanskrit medical writings refer to the benefits of
its fruits, seeds, oil, leaves, roots, and bark.” This tree offers not only medicinal uses but can also
be used for farming, fuel wood, food, or as an attractive ornamental.
Neem is a hardy and fast-growing tree which can reach between 15 to 20 meters in height. It is
native to seasonally dry sub-tropical India, Pakistan, and Myanmar, where it has been used by
humans for over two-thousand years. It has been introduced to and grows well throughout the
world, including arid and semi-arid regions with dry and infertile soils, where it can tolerate drought.
Neem trees can survive dry seasons seven to eight months long. The trees, however, don’t tolerate
poorly-drained, water-logged soils.
The neem tree is known throughout the world for its effectiveness as a natural pesticide and specifically
as a fungicide, nematicide, bactericide, and insecticide. It contains a chemical compound called
azadirachtin, which can be extracted from its seeds and leaves and used to repel insects, as well as harm
their digestive and reproductive properties.
According to the World AgroForestry Center, neem trees can be used as shade trees for livestock in hot
climates or as a windbreak to reduce soil erosion and moisture loss and thus help increase production of
other crops. Neem trees have been planted to rehabilitate degraded land in parts of Asia, Central America,
and sub-Saharan Africa. Oil pressed from neem seeds can be used as protein-rich cattle and poultry feed
or made into a nitrogen-rich neem-seed cake which can be applied to soils as a fertilizer.
For commercial cultivation, the neem tree is usually grown from seed or tip-cuttings in nurseries. However,
cultivation from seed can be challenging since neem seeds are only viable for eight to ten days from collection.
They can be quite difficult to propagate in nurseries, according to a report produced by the Winrock International
Institute for Agricultural Development.
Neem has a variety of traditional medicinal uses. In East Africa, the leaf decoction has been used to treat malaria.
The aromatic neem oil has been used to treat skin conditions, such as fungal infections, infected burns, and
eczema, while the bark, leaves, and fruit have been used to make a bitter-tasting drink remedy for intestinal worms.
Neem oil, which is similar to other vegetable oils in composition, is used in cosmetics, hair products, soaps, and
lotions, and is used especially in India. The wood has become increasingly valued for its use in furniture production
while neem flowers produce a tasty honey. In India, neem shoots, leaves, and flowers are consumed in a soup-like
dish or fried, seasoned, and served as an appetizer. In Southeast Asia, it is consumed by some people, but many
find the leaves too bitter. In Myanmar, leaves and buds are boiled with tamarind to reduce the bitter flavor. 1 / 2
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According to the World AgroForestry Center, “the market for neem-based pesticides is booming in India-growing
by 7 to 9 percent annually–and Europe is expected to be the fastest growing market for the future.”
Therefore it has the potential to be an important component of sustainable rural development programs. There are
exciting innovations being developed in kitchens, fields, laboratories, boardrooms, schools, and back yards that are
making the food system more environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable. Food Tank will feature these
valuable contributions for food system sustainability each week.